Monday, 4 November 2013

Rosa

     This is a short story I wrote a few weeks ago. I was supposed to send it in as a guest blog for someone else, but then things went a teensy leetle bit awry... I feel very weird putting it on here. Blogging is just my opinion, and we can argue the toss on it. Writing fiction is something else altogether. And Laura isn't a fully fleshed out as I'd like her to be, but sod it. My blog, my words, you can choose to read it. Or not.



Monday, 28th October
     ‘It’s tiny!’

     ‘What were you expecting? I told you it was small. Are you going to give me a hand with the bags, or not?’ I passed the overloaded bags of food to Mark, deliberately choosing to carry the much lighter suitcases myself. Mark grunted and trudged up the path to the front door of the cottage.

     ‘It smells a bit fusty.’ Mark grumbled as we stepped through the door and into the hall.

     ‘Well, obviously. No one’s been here since August. We’ll just have to open the windows for half an hour to get some fresh air in.’ I said briskly.

     ‘We’ll freeze!’

     ‘No we won’t. Look, are you going to complain about everything? Because if you are, we may as well just go home now.’ I dumped the suitcases on the floor and put my hands on my hips.

     ‘Sorry.’ Mark smiled ruefully. ‘I’m just wound up and tired.’

     ‘I know.’ I hugged him, resting my head against his chest. ‘That’s why you need this break. Five days in the middle of nowhere, no work stress, no need to chef. Just you and me. It’ll be just what you need to feel back on track.’

     ‘You’re right. Ok, let’s get this stuff put away.’
***

     Sitting on the sofa in the living room an hour later, Mark sighed happily. ‘You were right Laura. I do feel better already. How come you never suggested coming here before?’

     ‘I’d kind of forgotten to be honest. I haven’t been here since I was a kid, at least twenty-five years ago. It was only when I bumped into my cousin Sarah and she said they’d been here in the summer that I remembered about it.’

     ‘How can you forget you’ve got a holiday cottage to stay in?’ Mark asked incredulously. ‘It was your grandmother’s house!’

     ‘Great-grandmother.’ I corrected him. ‘Like I said, I haven’t been here for years, and Mum and Dad never bothered either. Anyway, last time I was here it was completely different. Totally unmodernised for a start. No heating, no electricity, no bathroom…’

     ‘No bathroom? That’s a bit grim.’ Mark interrupted me. ‘What about..’

     ‘The toilet?’ I grinned. ‘Long drop shed in the garden. I know. It seemed really dark in here as well. Rosa had all this stuff hanging up everywhere, herbs and flowers, shelves packed out with bottles and jars of things she made.’

     ‘What, like jams and chutneys?’

     ‘Sort of, yes. She made a lot of herbal remedies for things as well, like a cottage industry Neal’s Yard.’ I stopped. An old memory stirred fretfully in my mind, of gathering herbs in the woods that surrounded the cottage.

     ‘Any good?’

     ‘No idea.’ I lied. ‘Anyway, what do you want to do with the rest of the day? Go out for a walk?’

     ‘Nah. I’m going to cuddle up to you, watch a film, and then this evening I shall prepare the most excellent steak dinner for modom’s delectation.’ Mark kissed my nose and I giggled.

     ‘You are daft. You’re supposed to be having a week off from work.’

     ‘Cooking for you is nothing like cheffing in a restaurant. For a start, you actually appreciate the food.’

     ‘I do love you Mark. And not just for your culinary skills. Well, not entirely.’



Tuesday 29th October

     I woke up slowly, the feather duvet comfortingly heavy on me. Delicious smells were drifting up from the kitchen, hinting that a full English breakfast was being prepared. Mmm. I snuggled down further into the bed, smiling to myself.

     ‘Laura!’ Mark called from downstairs. ‘Stop pretending to be asleep and come down for breakfast.’

     Shrugging on my dressing gown, I made my way down the steeply winding staircase and into the kitchen where the anticipated breakfast was being dished up by a smiling Mark.

     ‘Fancy a walk today?’ Mark asked, deftly forking up sausage and egg.

     ‘Yeah, why not? As long as it’s not raining.’

     We set off after breakfast, arm in arm. A weak sun struggled to shine through the light mist that hung in the trees. Underfoot, the ground was damp, but firm, the only sound our footsteps and the infrequent cooing of wood pigeons. We walked in companionable silence for an hour or so. Then;

     ‘Guess we’d better head back.’ Mark said doubtfully. ‘Which way?’

     ‘What?’

     ‘Which is the quickest way back?’ Mark sounded slightly impatient.

     ‘I don’t know!’

     ‘You were leading the way; I just went along with you.’

     ‘No I wasn’t. I was just walking. I thought you were paying attention to where we were going.’ I protested. We stood in a clearing, facing each other. The mist had deepened and gave a murky, haunted atmosphere to the unfamiliar trees. The sun had given up, disappearing behind the clouds, and the woods felt darker and more oppressive. ‘Fine. Let’s just head back along the path.’

     Within five minutes I could tell I’d gone the wrong way. The trees here were older, more gnarled and covering in ivy. Bum. Perhaps if I kept us walking fast enough, Mark might not realise.

     ‘We’re lost.’ Mark said flatly.

     ‘No, we’re just not going the same way we came.’ I said evenly, trying to convey a sense of calmness I didn’t feel. ‘It’s a big forest; there are plenty of ways through it.’

     ‘Yes, plenty of wrong ways.’ Tetchy.

     ‘I don’t see you doing any better.’ I retorted. Whoops. Mark suddenly looked over my shoulder.

     ‘Laura, what’s that over there?’ Mark began picking his way through a large patch of ivy, heading away from me. I tutted and followed him. ‘Weird. It’s like some kind of table.’

     ‘Altar. It’s an altar.’ I tried to keep my voice steady, but my heart began pounding and adrenaline tore through my veins.

     Mark didn’t seem to have heard me, examining the three foot high white stone altar, the top covered in intricate symbols and runic markings. ‘What an odd things to find in the middle of the forest! Someone must have put it here for some reason. And quite recently too, it’s not covered in moss or ivy like everything else is.’ He ran his fingers across some of the carvings. ‘Come here, have a look.’

     ‘We’d better get going; it looks like it might start raining in a minute.’ My voice sounded high-pitched and stilted, even to my ears.

     ‘Aren’t you even slightly intrigued? Feel how smooth it is.’ Before I could demure, Mark took my hand and brushed my fingers along the top of the altar. I whipped my hand away. ‘What’s wrong?’

     ‘Nothing! I’d just like to try and find our way back to the cottage, before we get soaked.’ Already I knew the route as though I’d walked it every day. And sure enough, within ten minutes we were unlocking the front door.

     ‘How on earth did you do that?’ Mark was stunned that we’d made it back so easily.

     I shrugged. ‘Good sense of direction. And lucky. And aren’t you lucky that you’ve got me?’

     ‘Luckier than Lucky McLuck, riding his luck and asking Lady luck for a date.’ Mark slipped his arms around my waist. ‘Why don’t we celebrate our safe return with a nice hot bath and a bottle of champagne?’

***
     ‘I could get used to this.’ I mumbled, leaning back in the bath, eyes closed, surrounded by bubbles.

     ‘Me too.’ A pause. ‘Did you hear that?

     ‘Wha?’

     ‘Sounded like a noise downstairs.’

     ‘S’nothing. Probably just the furniture creaking.’ I opened my eyes. Mark was sitting hunched forward at the other end of the bath, head cocked to the side, listening. ‘Seriously, it’s an old house. It makes noises. Get used to it.’ I closed my eyes again.

     ‘Yeah, I know. Just seeing that table, altar, shrine thing in the forest… It’s kind of spooky, don’t you think?’

     ‘Not really.’ I faked a yawn. ‘You’re just a townie. You get all sorts of weird stuff in the countryside.’

     ‘Ah yes, I’d forgotten you grew up as a straw chewing yokel. Still got your smock and straw hat?’

    ‘Shurrup.’ I flicked water at him. ‘Make yourself useful and top up my champagne.’ I thrust my glass at him.

     ‘Your great-grandmother would be shocked at all these goings on in her old house.’ Mark said, refilling the glasses, and putting the bottle back on the floor. ‘If she could see us now, eh?’ There was an ear-splitting crack and shards of glass were scattered across the floor as the bottle smashed. ‘Jesus! What the hell happened?’

     ‘You dropped the bottle, you idiot.’ I huffed, climbing out of the bath and wrapping a towel around me.

     ‘I didn’t! Honestly! It didn’t even slip!’

     ‘Well bottles don’t shatter on their own, do they?’ I muttered as I started collecting the larger pieces of glass together.

     ‘You don’t think…’

     ‘What?’

     ‘What I was saying, about your great-grandmother…’

     ‘Oh, don’t be so stupid.’ I snapped, scowling at him.



Wednesday 30th October

     The tension that had sprung up after Mark smashed the bottle lingered for the rest of Tuesday, making us snap and kvetch at one another. I woke early on Wednesday morning and stood, coffee in hand, gazing out of the window in the living room at a grey and drizzly morning. Looks like we’ll be getting a dose of cabin fever today then, I thought.

     ‘Morning.’ Mark was standing in the doorway.

     ‘Look, I’m sorry…’ We both began, then laughed.

     ‘I’m sorry for being in a mood, I said gruffly, my chin tucked into my chest.

     ‘No, I’m sorry. I must not have put the bottle down properly.’

     ‘It doesn’t matter. It was a stupid thing for me to get annoyed about.’ We cuddled. ‘Do you want to go out anywhere today? The weather’s looking fairly grotty, I can’t see it changing much.’

     ‘Let’s just stay in. Build up the fire, you can read a book and I’ll go to the shops later. Maybe stock up on some bathtime champagne, if that appeals?’ He nudged me. ‘Hmm?’

     We spent the morning slobbing about in the living room in front of the fire, drinking hot chocolate and reading. Absolutely blissful, as the wind outside picked up speed and the old cottage creaked. I felt cosy, peaceful.

     ‘Happy?’ Mark asked me as we washed up after lunch.

     ‘Yes. Just you, me, and peace and quiet. You?’

     ‘Never more so. I know it’s hard sometimes for us to get time together, with the hours I work, but being here with you like this, it reminds me just how happy you make me.’ I blushed and he went on. ‘That said, I’d better go shopping straight after this, before the weather gets any worse. Do you want anything?’

     ‘Just you!’ I said in my best soppy voice, simpering at him and fluttering my eyelashes.

     ‘You big eejit.’ He jangled the car keys and went out to the car.

     I felt restless after he’d gone. Lounging around the cottage on my own didn’t feel as enjoyable somehow. I put away the washing up, straightened up the living room and tried to settle back down with my book, but I couldn’t help feeling slightly on edge, tense, as though I was expecting something, something I wasn’t looking forward to. ‘Don’t be silly.’ I told myself. ‘It’s just because the wind is howling, you’re in the middle of nowhere, on your own and with no one close by… Oh why did I think that?’ Obediently, the wind began to roar through the trees even more violently than before. Despite the lack of sun, the thrashing limbs of the trees cast spindly shadows across the living room, making it appear that the forest was in the living room with me, the wind its wailing voice.

     I clapped my hands over my ears and squeezed my eyes closed, not wanting the memory to return. But it was there. The old woman and the terrified child in the forest, the tempest swirling around them as they held hands and exchanged the ring…

     ‘Stop it!’ I shouted and opened my eyes. ‘Stupid! Stupid.’ I took a deep breath. Stupid. I wasn’t an impressionable child anymore, she was long dead and this was just a normal autumn storm. I glared at the trees outside as though they had personally offended, and pursed my lips. The living room door banged loudly behind me and I jumped, then laughed at myself. Silly girl. It’s the wind, just the wind. And that shadow moving across the wall is just tree branches moving, the noise at the window is just debris from the storm. Enough. I squared my shoulders and sat back down on the sofa, pretending I didn’t feel relieved when Mark got back half an hour later.

     ‘Who was that woman?’

     ‘What woman?’ I put down my book, frowning.
     ‘That woman who was just walking down the path, towards the forest.’ Mark spoke as if I were slow of thinking. I stared at him, puzzled. ‘She came out of the back door. Was she a neighbour?’

     ‘There aren’t any neighbours for at least a mile. And no one’s been here apart from me. Are you sure you thought you saw someone?’

     ‘I don’t think I saw someone, I did see someone.’ Mark was adamant.

     ‘It might have been a walker who got lost. But no one’s been here apart from me, and definitely no one’s been in the house.’ I said, then something occurred to me.’ If someone did knock, I might not have heard them, the wind’s been so loud. But the back door’s locked, so they wouldn’t have been able to get in.’

     ‘I’ll go and check it.’ Mark spoke angrily as though I was deliberately trying to irk him.

     ‘Fine.’ Needled by his mood, I followed him, just to see him discover that I was right.

     ‘Ok, so it is locked.’ Mark abandoned checking the lock and started unpacking the shopping, obviously put out.

     ‘There you are then.’ I said pointlessly.

     ‘What’s that supposed to mean?’

     ‘Nothing. Just that I’m pleased that there wasn’t anyone trying to break in when I was here on my own.’ I adopted a placatory tone. Mark was supposed to be unwinding, not getting more stressed.

     ‘So. Laura.’ His voice was like a knife and I felt instantly wary. What had I done wrong? ‘When were you planning to tell me the truth?’

     ‘The truth?’ Stalling. Play for time. ‘The truth about what?’

     ‘Your grandmother.’

     ‘Do you mean my great-grandmother, Rosa?’ I ventured.

     ‘Sorry, your great-grandmother. When were you going to tell me?’

     ‘Tell you what?’ How did he know? Had he guessed? But I’d never told anyone, not a soul. He had no way of knowing what had happened all those years ago, just before Rosa died. ‘I… I didn’t, I’m… I was scared.’  My voice was a whisper.

     ‘Scared?’ Mark snorted. ‘Scared? You couldn’t be that scared! What was there to be scared of?’ I stared at him, my mouth slightly agape. ‘Honestly Laura, I’m annoyed because you didn’t tell me, but there’s no need to be frightened of telling me. It’d just have been nice to know that Rosa died in this house, that’s all. It was a bit weird to hear it from a stranger in the shop.’

     ‘Oh! You mean, yes, yes, she did, she died. Here, in the kitchen.’ Oh. Relief flooded through me like a river. He didn’t know. He didn’t even suspect anything.

     ‘Yes, I know that now. Why didn’t you say anything before?’ Mark smiled fondly at me.

     ‘I didn’t want to freak you out?’ I suggested. Sounded plausible. ‘You’re supposed to be forgetting about horrible stuff.’

     ‘It’s an old house. I’m sure plenty of people have died here over the years. And it was years ago, wasn’t it?’

     ‘Twenty-five years ago.’ I said faintly.

     ‘So not long after you were last here then?’

     ‘Mm.’ Let’s not go any further in that direction. ‘So what do you want to do with the rest of the day?’

     ‘I can think of a few things.’ Mark raised an eyebrow and smiled wickedly. I felt a wriggly squirm of desire and grinned back.


Thursday 31st October

     The storm lasted all night, the wind shrieking, and making the thatched roof bump and rustle. I woke in the early hours to find Mark standing at the bedroom window.

     ‘Whassit?’ I asked fuzzily. ‘Come back to bed.’

    ‘Laura, come here.’ His voice was low and urgent. I hauled myself out of bed and stumbled over to him. ‘There’ Mark pointed towards the trees. ‘Can you see that?’

     I squinted to where he was indicating. ‘I’m not sure. What do you think it is?’ I couldn’t actually see anything, but he seemed bothered by whatever it was.

     ‘It looked like a light, moving through the trees.’ Mark sounded distracted, ducking his head this way and that. ‘Can’t see it now. But there was something definitely out there.’

     ‘Might be the moon. It’s full moon today or tomorrow.’ I stifled a yawn. ‘Come back to bed. It’s the middle of the night.’

     ‘Yeah, will do.’ Mark frowned, making no effort to move away from the window. ‘I’ll just watch for a minute or two more.’

     Unsurprisingly, I found him fast asleep in the armchair by the window when I woke up at seven. I tucked the duvet round him and went to get myself some breakfast. The storm had finally blown itself out and the new day was cold, but bright, the air crisp. When Mark was still making happy little snores at half past ten I decided to go out for a walk to shake off the clammy feeling that comes of spending too long indoors. Not wanting to get lost again, I stuck to the circular path that skirted the end of the garden, knowing it would keep me well away from the area of forest where the altar was.

     But the path seemed to have changed with time. More overgrown, fewer views of the fields beyond. And it was with a sense of impending unease that I rounded what I told myself would be the final corner of my walk to be confronted by the sight of the altar once more. Without consciously intending to, I drew closer and stood beside it. The sounds of the forest died away and a strange feeling of tranquillity stole over me. I placed both hands on the altar and closed my eyes.

     The memory rose over me like a tidal wave. Rosa, tall and sinewy, her long silver hair reaching past her waist, taking hold of both of my hands and staring into my eyes. I’d stared back, refusing to be intimidated, as much as I was scared of her. She’d watched me intently and then smiled, a thin-lipped smile of cruel satisfaction, not joy, and said to herself ‘Yes. This is the one.’

     And then that terrible rain lashed night at the end of April, following her deep into the forest, her hands gripping my wrists over the altar, making me repeat the same mysterious and snakelike words she hissed into the night. I remembered trembling, terrified of what I might have unleashed without fully understanding, as she pushed the cold metal of the silver ring onto my finger.

     Then the final memory of running, pell mell, the following morning from the cottage back into the woods and to the altar, my hands scrabbling frantically at the wet earth, shoving the ring as deep as I could into the soil, then covering it with leaves and pebbles so that it was gone, gone forever and I was released from the terrible bond Rosa had placed me under.

     I gasped and stepped back. How much of it I’d never wanted to remember. Hadn’t been able to remember until now. ‘Silly old woman.’ I said aloud. ‘You might have scared a little girl, but you don’t scare me.’ Feeling slightly foolish at addressing my words to the trees, I walked quickly back to the cottage, shaking my head that I’d allowed myself to become so fearful. Rosa hadn’t been a witch. Just an eccentric old woman who’d spent too much time on her own and believed her own thoughts. It was coincidence that she’d died a few days after my last visit, nothing more.

     ‘Mark? Mark? Are you up?’ I called up the stairs.

     ‘In the kitchen.’ I threw my arms around him as he stood at the toaster. ‘What’s this for?’

     ‘No reason!’ I sang. ‘Just because I love you. Let’s go out today. It’s too nice to be stuck inside. I fancy a walk along a beach and then fish and chips.’

 It was nearly dark when we got back to the cottage just after five o’clock. Mark grinned at me as we got out of the car. ‘Got a surprise for you.’ He rummaged in the boot. ‘Ta-DAH!’

     ‘A pumpkin?’

     ‘Yes! It’s Halloween, remember? We can put it outside in case any trick or treaters come by!’

     ‘That’s hardly likely.’ I pointed out.

     ‘Spoilsport. You can carve it whilst I start making dinner and then we can watch a scary film and pretend not to be frightened!’

     ‘Oh, alright.’

     It had been bright and sunny all day, and the night sky was clear, a galaxy of stars outshone by a full moon, illuminating the path ahead of us. I felt unaccountably ill at ease, as though we were being watched, the trees seeming to have edged closer to the house, their branches reaching towards us like gnarled and arthritic fingers. There was a hushed susurration of wind and then

     ‘JESUS!’ I yelped, clapping a hand to my chest, fingers splayed.

     ‘Blimey, Laura, it was only a fox or deer or something!’ Mark’s voice was higher than normal, probably from the fright I’d given him, rather than from alarm caused by the sudden crashing noises in the undergrowth to the side of us. ‘What’s got you so jumpy?’

     ‘Nothing!’ I prickled, angry at having frightened myself. ‘It just scared me, that’s all.’ My heart began to slow down. ‘Come on.’

     ‘You were the one who stopped, not me.’ Mark muttered in an undertone that was meant for me to hear. I felt my hackles rise and told myself to ignore him.

     As soon as we were inside he began preparing dinner, industriously chopping, whisking and grating as I battled with the pumpkin, reflecting that the innards of it were possibly my least favourite thing to touch with my bare hands.

     ‘Shall we be total slobs and eat in front of the telly?’ Mark asked, all irritation soothed away by losing himself in culinary bliss.

     ‘Seems like a shame when you make so much of an effort.’

     ‘Not really, I like my food, but I love you. And cuddling up to you is my favourite place in the world to be.’ He snaked an arm around my waist and pulled me close, nuzzling my neck. ‘You make up the fire and choose a film whilst I carry on here. Eat at about seven?’

     I headed out to the woodshed at the end of the garden, pulling my coat around me as the wind frittered leaves past my face and thin wisps of clouds scudded across the face of the moon, sending shadows through the trees. I still felt unsettled, glancing around me for animals lurking, ready to leap out of the woods at me. I filled up the wood basket quickly, my movements jerky and uncoordinated with tension. As I bent to pick it up, the wind stopped, suddenly and completely. There was nothing, so sound, not even from the creatures of the forest. I paused, then lifted up the basket.

     ‘Laura…’ A hoarse whisper. ‘Laura…’

     I ran, incapable of sound, speech or thought, throwing myself through the door of the cottage, dropping the basket and bolting the door behind me.

      ‘Laura! What on earth? You’re white as a sheet!’

     My brain unfroze. ‘Just heard a noise, a noise outside I mean, when I was outside, there was a noise, it frightened me.’ I gabbled, clutching at his arm, silently pleading with him to reassure me, make it stop, make it go away, make her go away.

     ‘Oh Laura.’ Mark tilted his head to the side as he looked at me. ‘A noise? Really? Not an axe-wielding maniac or anything like that? It was probably a hedgehog or something. You’re so jumpy today. Is it that time of the month?’

     ‘No! It wasn’t that kind of noise, it sounded like someone whispering to me.’ Now that I was in the warmth and light of the kitchen, it didn’t seem so real. But still…

     ‘Come off it darling. You’re still freaked out by earlier, for whatever reason. Look, pour yourself a glass of wine, and go into the living room, make up the fire and then relax. I’ll manage in here.’

     Perhaps he was right. But it had felt so close. It had sounded like my name in her voice. No, I was just being silly. She’d been dead a long time. And I don’t believe in ghosts. I don’t. I do not believe in ghosts. I started as the wind howled outside and rolled my eyes at my own stupidity. Nervy idiot.

      The wind continued to guest throughout the evening, bringing with it heavy rain that thundered against the roof and splattered on the windows. We decided against a scary film, and settled for a fluffy rom-com instead, cosily snuggled up on the sofa, the fire blazing merrily away before heading upstairs for an early night. I lay awake, listening to the sound of the storm outside, the trees creaking as they attempted to withstand the assault. It sounded like tow great armies of nature opposing one another, as though the ground itself was being torn apart. Appropriate for Halloween, I thought to myself, the time when the dead return to earth.

     I gripped the duvet. Why had I thought that? Why? I cuddled closer to Mark. He grunted in his sleep and threw a heavy arm around me.
  

Friday 1st November

     Stupidly, superstitiously, I’d stayed saucer eyed long after midnight, finally falling into a fitful slumber at six, only to wake, tired and grumpy at eight when Mark got up. Odd dreams had stalked me, fragments of memory piecing themselves together.

     I had been so silly, so gullible. Admittedly, I’d been young, but really! Had I honestly believed that Rosa had somehow put a part of her soul into a ring? That she was waiting to be brought back to life, as though she were a pot noodle and I the kettle of boiling water? I snorted at the thought and joined Mark downstairs.

     ‘I guess we’d better pack up, clean and head off before it gets too late.’ There was a slight query in his voice that meant he wanted me to lead him astray.

     ‘No rush, is there? Let’s load up the car and clean in here, then go for one last walk in the woods. Come on.’ I cajoled. I wanted to see the forest again, see it with fresh eyes no longer haunted by the memory of Rosa. ‘And before I forget, pinch, punch, first of the month. And no return.’

     Mark slapped his forehead. ‘Too quick for me. Huh. First of November. All Saints Day. Samhain.’

     ‘Samhain?’

     ‘Ancient Celtic festival of something or other. Precursor to Halloween. Ok, let’s pack up and see if we can get lost again.’ He kissed the top of my head. ‘Love you. Thank you for suggesting we come away here. It’s been good.’

     ‘Love you too. And I’m glad we came.’ As I said it, I realised it was true. I’d spent so much time fearing my memories that to realise it was all just the eccentric mumblings of a lonely old woman to an impressionable young girl was like tasting freedom for the first time.

     Stomping through the woods a few hours later, we realised just how devastating the storm had been. Branches strewn across paths, trees uprooted, the landscape appeared refreshed and unfamiliar. Our progress was halted by an ancient elm tree that had been blown down and lay across the path.

     ‘We could go round it.’ I said doubtfully. There wasn’t much of a gap to squeeze through and the brambles made me fear for the integrity of my tights.

      Mark walked to the end of the tree, peering at the roots and made a small noise of disappointment. ‘Look at this! Laura, look. That stone table. It’s been completely smashed by the tree.’ I moved forward and saw that it was true. Rosa’s altar was in pieces, completely broken and irreparable. I felt elated. Another reminder of my naivety gone. Mark was rooting around in the ground, picked something up, examined it for a moment then stuffed it in his pocket, before standing up. ‘I suppose we should just turn back. The path ahead is probably even worse.’

     Back at the cottage, we checked everything was clean and locked away, then I went upstairs to close the curtains as requested. When I came back down, Mark was waiting in the kitchen, a sheepish look on his face. ‘What? What is it?’

     He took a deep breath. ‘Laura.’ He dropped to one knee. ‘We’ve been together for three years now and I love you so very much.’ Clearing his throat, he delved into his pocket and went on. ‘Will you do me the honour of agreeing to become my wife?’

     I felt the smile spread across my face like sunrise. ‘Yes! Yes!’ Tears filled my eyes. ‘I love you too, and yes, I want to be your wife!’ Mark slipped the ring onto my finger and then lifted me up, swinging me round, both of us laughing.

     ‘But are you sure? I mean, really sure?’

     ‘I have never been more sure of anything in my life!’ I cried, my voice choked.

     ‘When I found the ring, I knew it was a sign, and I knew it had to be here. But now, my darling, your chariot awaits. Let’s go and tell everyone we know that we are engaged.’ Mark opened the front door with a flourish and bowed.

     Absolutely! But firstly, and  in no way wanting to spoil the moment, I need to go to the loo.’

     ‘See you at the car then.’ We beamed at each other before I dashed upstairs.

     I was at the front door when I remembered I hadn’t checked if the kitchen blinds were closed. Phew, they were. I stepped back for one last look to make sure that everything was as it should be and… I saw a movement in the corner of my eye. I turned to the left. Nothing. To the right. Nothing. I looked down.

     Tiny darting black shadows were rushing, racing across the stone floor, hundreds of tiny darting black shadows swirling and writhing. I stood, immobile, watching, hypnotised by them.

     The shadows began to join. Where they met they became larger, darker, faster, filling the world with darkness. There was a split second.

     And then the shadow leapt.

***

     Mark tooted the car horn, impatient to be leave and share the news. He watched as the figure of Laura in her denim jacket locked the front door, skipped lightly down the path and leapt into the front passenger seat.

     ‘Happy?’ he asked.


     ‘Never better.’ replied Rosa.

2 comments:

LearnerMother said...

Spooky...I read this yesterday and have been wondering what nefarious tricks Rosa is up to ever since!

Lucy Benedict said...

Haha, I could tell you, but then Rosa would kill me. And you.